Le Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

When people talk about art galleries in Paris, Le Louvre is always mentioned, usually closely followed by Le Musee d’Orsay. These two galleries attract millions of international tourists each year, wanting to see Mona Lisa’s smile, Gauguin’s Tahitian Women, works by van Gogh, Degas, Caravaggio, Delacroix, Ingres, Renoir, Monet, Vermeer, just to name a few. However, where do you go to see celebrated modern art (usually classified as art of the 20th century, post WWI art) in Paris? Where can you see the works of Kandinsky, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, etc.? Hidden amongst the Haussman-styled apartment buildings in the 4th arrondissement of Paris – well known for it’s cafes, shops and expensive real estate – is Le Centre Georges Pompidou, the hub for modern art in Paris. On weekends, the forecourt of the centre is usually filled with street performers of every shape and size, who seek the attention of visitors and passers by alike.

Note: For those who don’t know, Paris is broken up into 20 administrative districts know as arrondissements, each with their own mayor and council, as well as their own individual character and atmosphere. When Parisians talk about where they live, they always mention their arrondissement. Your arrondissement places you, socially speaking, into a box. It tells others of your social and economic standing, your interests and even your political persuasions. For example, the 16th arrondissement is know to be very upmarket, chic and conservative. In contrast, the 18th arrondissement is known to be very liberal, artsy, with a large population of North African immigrants and descendants.

The exterior of the Centre Georges Pompidou appears to be somewhat of an eye-sore when set in contrast to the surrounding neighbourhood. In a very ‘un-Parisian’ manner, the original buildings on the site were demolished in the 1960s to make way for this ‘hideous’ structure (Paris usually has a great reputation for retaining and transforming existing structures, which as allowed to city to retain its old-world charm – the Louvre Museum was originally a royal palace and the Musee d’Orsay is a converted railway station. On my first visit to Paris, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Parisian government created a new suburb on the outskirts of Paris, known as Le Defense, to accommodate a growing need to establish a business district in Paris, rather than demolishing the existing buildings and neighbourhoods). So, steering away from tradition, is Le Centre Georges Pompidou. The steel frame, the glass facades, the coloured pipes and the tres moderne look of the site ensure that no passerby fails to miss it. The design and construction of the centre has since become and has remained a topic of heated criticisms amongst many Parisians.

As you can see from the photos above, the view from the top floors of Le Centre Georges Pompidou is unquestionable Parisian. Seeing the unmistakeable rooftops of Paris and the Parisian skyline dominated by the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame from this perspective was a unique experience. The colours, the textures, the design of the structures, just thinking about all those hundreds of thousands of people who inhabit this unique city. All those individuals who glance through those little windows to see life in Paris unfolding day by day.

Ok, so the main reason people go to the Centre Georges Pompidou isn’t to criticised the bad town planning/architectural decisions of the then French President Georges Pompidou, nor to be bewildered by the beauty of the panoramic views, but rather to appreciate the amazing art which is on display in the light-filled, warehouse inspired, gallery spaces. The Centre hosts many temporary exhibitions throughout the year, but it’s their permanent collect of Fauvist, Cubist, Expressionist, Surrealist (to name a few) works which I found absolutely amazing, especially in comparison to the ‘poorly’ collections of many of the large, state-run galleries in Sydney. Le Musee d’Arte Moderne in the 16 arrodissement – just up the road from where I was living and which I frequented regularly – also has a great collection of modern art, it is no where near as impressive, in quality and quantity, as the exhibits at the Pompidou Centre. All the big names of 20th century art are there – everywhere you turn you see art works you’ve read about and the closest you came to seeing them was on the pages of a poorly printed high school textbook (or a better printed and much more pricey university textbook). Picasso, Kandinsky, Braque, Matisse, Dali, Miro, Wahol, Pollock….the list goes on and on and on.

As you gather, if you’re an art-buff, an admirer of modern art, or a art history student seeking cultural gratification in such a culturally rich city as Paris (I put my hand up here), then Le Centre Georges Pompidou is a must on your next visit to Paris.

– The Centre is located on the opposite side of Les Halles to Le Louvre, and take one of the many metro lines which intersect at Les Halles/Chatelet and exit here.

Photographs from my personal collection

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Le Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise

I know this most probably sounds macabre, but one of my favourite places in the whole of Paris is Pere-Lachaise Cemetery. I find that the place has a unique and unconventional beauty. The old moss covered headstones and tombs, the uneven cobbled stone paths which have been eroded from the footsteps of thousand of visitors, the realistic stone-carved sculptures, the eerie quietness on a chilly winter’s afternoon, give the cemetery a bit of an other-worldly, even magical atmosphere. No visit to Paris is complete without spending a few hours meandering the streets of Pere Lachaise Cemetery. For those keen for a treasure hunt, purchase a map of the cemetery and while away the hours trying to locate the tombs of the many rich and famous people interred beneath the damp, Parisian soil.

Le cimetière du Père-Lachaise is the resting place of a large number of French and world famous actors, politicians, artists, writers, musicians, including Balzac (one of the best loved French novelists and playwrights), Eugene Delacroix (world-renown French romantic painter, I’d say his most well-known work would be La Liberté guidant le peuple), Georges Haussmann (the architect and town planner responsible for the ‘modernisation’ of Paris, making Paris the Paris we all know and love today), Yves Montard (the famous French actor, I especially loved him in the role of Papet in the film Jean de Florette), Jim Morrison (one of the main reasons why many visit this cemetery, to see the grave of this famous rock star and lead singer of The Doors), Nadar (one of the most talented French portrait photographers of the mid to late 19th century – many probably do not know him, but after writing an essay on French photography of the 19th century, I was eager to go and see his grave), Edith Piaf (just think La Vie en Rose), Camille Pissaro (a well-know Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painter and advocate for the avant-garde pointillism method of representing colour), Marcel Proust (writer of the magnificent work A la recherche de temps perdu), and Oscar Wilde (author and playwright, know for the following famous works The Picture of Dorian GrayThe Importance of Being EarnestLady Windermere’s Fan, etc). Just to name a few.

Located in the 20th arrondissement, on one of the seven mounds/hills of Paris known as Champ-l’Eveque, which overlooks Paris towards the south-west (there are spectacular views of the roof-tops of Paris from the cemetery). It is located near three metro stations. Depending on where you would like to enter the cemetery – it’s very large covering almost 120 acres – select your metro line and station accordingly – you can take line 2 and exit at Philippe Auguste or line 3 and exit at Pere Lachaise or at Gambetta. There is no entry fee to enter the cemetery, however if you would like a map, which is very helpful as it highlights the grave sites of about 100 famous people, you’ll have to pay a few euros (even with a map it can be difficult to find certain graves as many graves almost topple over each other and although part of the cemetery is laid out in a grid formation, the remainder is a collection of interwoven paths and lanes).

The cemetery is named after Pere Francois de la Chaise, who was the confessor of King Louis XIV and who lived in the Jesuit house on the site of the cemetery chapel. The cemetery, and another two in what was then greater Paris, but now central Paris, were established by Napoleon in order to relieve the smaller cemeteries in the centre of the city. It was officially opened in 1804. Originally people considered the cemetery to be too far from the centre of Paris and thus inconvenient for funerals. In response, the state organised a marketing plan and with great pomp and ceremony transferred the remains of Moliere and La Fontaine to the cemetery, which was followed by that of other famous personalities. Since then, the people of Paris have wanted to be buried in the cemetery of Pere-Lachaise – if they were unable to be close to their idols in life, they were able to in death – and to date over 300,000 bodies have been buried on the grounds.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina